The Arab Street

Mideast Libya

Image by شبكة برق | B.R.Q via Flickr

The Libyan Affair continues to look more and more like an unresolvable morass, and the United States like a sucker for having dipped its military toe into a pool of tar.  The AP reports today that NATO is agreed that Gadhafi “must go”, but also that “. . . they will not be the ones to oust him.”  Behind the scenes the NATO countries are in disarray over how to proceed or who will supply military tools.  There was this telling assertion:

But differences over the scope of the military operation persisted, with Britain and France insisting on more action, particularly from sophisticated U.S. surveillance and weapons systems, and U.S officials maintaining that the alliance already has the tools to get the job done.

Clearly, the U.S. is the repository of sophisticated weaponry and, most-notably, of satellite intelligence capabilities, both visual and electronic.  Borne of the Cold War, our capability here is unmatched and has to be of critical importance in a conflict

U.S. Lacrosse radar spy satellite under constr...

U.S. Lacrosse radar spy satellite, under const., via Wikipedia

like this air war where distinguishing between the two sides on the ground is unusually difficult.  (Incidentally, the U.S. just launched another large NRO surveillance satellite last month.)  Given the existence of such capabilities, their use is a given.  So, we now have our “allies” arguing over how to use our resources.  They need more

airplanes.  They need more surveillance.  They need more . . .   Makes me wonder what they bring to the table, other than requisitions for more of everything.

Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) 3

Image by jacksnell via Flickr

A lack of clear military objectives is a classic formula for failure.  It once again points to our failure to answer in the affirmative the Powell Doctrine’s eight questions before firing the first missile.  I posted previously about how our intervention might, just might, come out ahead in this, but looks increasingly like that will not be the case.

This mess highlights the difficulty a civilized first-world has of standing by while a ruthless dictator threatens a bloody put-down of a resurrection, but our professed motive in intervention was hypocritical in this case.  There were other resurrections in which we did not intervene.  The president gambled and in my opinion he lost.  The temptation to use those sophisticated tools and those missiles is apparently just irresistible.  And, if we did it for humanitarian reasons, where now is the love we get for it?

The civil war in Libya looks increasingly looks like a stalemate between Gadhafi and the rag-tag “rebels” with their patch-work army of pickup rocket-launchers, but only because of NATO air support.  Without that support they would clearly have lost by now.

Richard Engel of NBC Nightly News, who somehow seems always to be in the thick of things and whose opinion I have learned to respect, made a telling statement about the rebels the other night.  When asked, “who are these people?”, he described them as being from “the Arab street”, and he went on to explain that despite their present aim of deposing Gadhafi, this term means that they are principally united by a common hatred of Israel.  If this is true, then the U.S. and NATO are making a serious mistake in supporting them.  We may be trading a cooperative ruthless dictator for another Iran or Syria.

Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, drawing by E.W....

Image via Wikipedia

We made the same mistake in deposing Saddam, a similar ruthless dictator who was using cruel methods to keep order in a nation of roiling tribal passions.  Some may consider that action successful now that the ground war is technically over, but I don’t.  The need to keep 50,000 combat troops there in readiness is hardly a measure of success and the new Iraq is a model of civil INSTABILITY.

How do we get unstuck from this tar baby?

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
This entry was posted in War and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Arab Street

  1. jwhester says:


    I disagree with your analysis. This is a NATO mission. We are part of NATO, and so we are involved. We did not invade Libya as we did other countries during Bush’s tenure because this president doesn’t believe in invading other countries in order to grab resources or impose regimes “friendly” to the U.S. You shouldn’t therefore measure its effectiveness by using metrics based on such motives.

    I don’t have to decide whether I like people or their politics in order to intervene when a dictator is killing his own people. NATO has established a no-fly zone in order to prevent Qaddafi from launching attacks from the air. In that it has been successful.


  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    I take it then, John, that you favor intervening militarily in the internal affairs of any country in which governments or warring sides threaten “civilians”? This would amount to our assuming the status of the World’s Policeman, something even President Clinton said was not feasible.

    I suggest that even under the approval of the UN Security Council, such a course is fraught with peril. First of all, as in the case of Libya, the long-term consequences of intervention are not always apparent at the outset. Secondly, once we intervene, it has always been the case in the past that no satisfactory result can obtain unless we put “boots on the ground”. That adage appears to be playing out in Libya, and Obama’s scheme to hand-off the operation to “NATO” appears to have left military command and control in the hands of a large, bickering committee while leaving us still doing a third of the military strikes. In other words, it’s not looking good.

    If we had previously embarked on such a humanitarian course we might now be mired in the internal affairs of, and having to take care of, Rwanda, Somalia, and East Timor, among others. The case of Turkey and Kurdistan (N. Iraq) comes to mind as well. There have been atrocities on both sides of that long-smoldering dispute that would have justified our intervention under such a policy. That would obviously conflict with our NATO commitments.

    I too held some hope when the missiles were first launched that we might achieve a resolution of the Libyan Affair without boots on the ground. Alas, the conventional wisdom is holding true – against a determined military strong-man, it just isn’t happening. IMO, we don’t have enough troops to be the world’s policeman, and even if we did, we wouldn’t make everyone happy. In fact, we’d probably anger both sides, just like we did in Iraq.

    Just the same, thanks for your comment. I hope it works out – I’m just very pessimistic about it at this point. Committees do not make good military commanders.



  3. ansonburlingame says:

    To all,

    Like it or not folks, wars are fought to sustain or increase the national interests of states involved in warfare. To me that is the clarity over long periods of history of the Clauswitzian statement that war is politics by other means.

    When has ANY country gone to war to protect the interests of another country alone? Doesn’t happen in my view. It has to be in OUR national interest to go to war which protecting another country might be a part of the complex calculations involved.

    What for example would be the action of the U. S, if Israel were undoubtedly going to be overrun by the “Arab Street”. Would we simple sit back and let it happen? Look what our actions were following WWII to prevent western Europe from being overrun by a Soviet monolith. In neither case have or did we ourselves go to war to achieve our goals. That is the “beauty” of deterence, at least until someone, actting in their own perceived national interests “calls our bluff”, like the “Arab Street” did in 9/11.

    As for Libya, Jim, I agree with your pessimism for sure. I just reached the same level of concern a few weeks before you now seem to be doing. Anyone will be hard pressed to call our intervention in Libya a “success” for now. And the primary reason that is obvious today is that clear national objectives, OUR national interests, were never established before the missiles were first launched, which is an ACT OF WAR by any historical measure.

    It is very tough to “pick a winner” between the Arab Street and a dictator keeping a “lid” on same, at least in terms of our own national interests.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.